Advertising by drug companies to come under MPs' inquiry

MPs have launched an inquiry into the way drug companies advertise their products to the general public and medical practitioners.

The all-party Commons Health Select Committee is investigating the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, amid concern that it has expanded its efforts to promote drugs to patients, doctors and chemists. The MPs will consider calling for tighter rules on the advertising of over-the-counter drugs and on the way drugs are marketed to health professionals.

Figures supplied to the MPs showed that 16 of the 33 recent complaints about ads for drugs have been upheld by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency. Eleven were rejected and seven dropped because the ads were no longer being run or had been withdrawn.

Professor Kent Woods, the agency's chief executive, told the MPs that the voluntary system for over-the-counter medicines was "by and large" a very effective one.

He said the agency had powers to back up the system - for example, by pre-vetting ads if it were concerned or if a new drug had just become available without a prescription. About 17 products were currently subject to pre-vetting, he said.

The complaints upheld included ads for Benadryl Allergy Relief, Snufflebabe vapour rub and a new vaccine for which no marketing permission had been granted.